While many airlines have done away with change and cancellation fees, there’s still a sneaky “seat selection” fee that you’re not meant to notice when you choose your seat. However, you can avoid it altogether—here’s how.
How the seat selection fee works
For most consumers, it’s no secret that an airline’s listed seat price won’t include things like checked bags, onboard food, or wifi access. These extras are typically very clear when you book them because you understand what you’re getting for what you’re paying.
What the booking process makes less clear, though, is the “seat selection” fee, which merely reserves a specific seat for you (for an additional cost), even if it’s the same class of ticket as the seat ahead of it or behind it. Consumers tend to not notice this, however, because the seat selection screen doesn’t make it obvious that you can skip this step entirely—but you can.
Instead of selecting a seat, simply skip past the seat selection screen, and the airline will automatically assign you a seat for no extra charge. To do so, as Airfarewatchdog recommends, look for a clickable option that says, “Skip seats for all flights,” “Continue with basic economy,” or “No thanks, I’ll take whatever,” usually at the bottom corner of the screen.
Request your preferred seat at the gate
It’s still possible to request specific seats if you politely ask the gate agent when you arrive at the airport. CNTraveler recommends that you show up an hour early to do this, since gate agents will be less willing to do this the closer you get to your departure.
There are some tradeoffs in declining seat selection
While the seat selection fee is a cash grab, you could argue that it has some value. By not selecting your seat manually, you might:
- End up separated from your traveling companions (although Airfarewatchdog reports that couples and families are usually seated together when the seats are assigned by the airline).
- Get stuck in the dreaded middle seat.
- Lose out on a favorite spot, like at the front of the plane.
Per Nerdwallet, seat fares range from $0–23, depending on the airline. For some consumers, having their choice of seat is worth the cost, but if you’d rather pocket that money, you can avoid it completely.